Dr Joseph Shabalala, Durban, 2013

Dr Joseph Shabalala, Durban, 2013

Earlier this year Dr Joseph Shabalala, founder of the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was honoured at the inaugural Amagugu Esizwe event‚ which recognises those men and women who have played a significant role in arts and culture in eThekwini. ‘Amagugu esizwe’ loosely translates to ‘Jewel of the Nation’, and that really is what Shabalala is to this country! Only a handful of South African artists have been awarded a prestigious Grammy Award, but Ladysmith Black Mambazo have not one, but four Grammys to their name, one of which was presented to the group while the country was still restricted by economic and political sanctions.

A deeply religious man Joseph Shabalala likens singing to prayer:

Singing is just like kneeling down and praying. I remember the first day when I listened to harmony. It calmed my heart. And from that day, up to today, music is just like my pillar. I just lean against that harmony.

Shabalala, who is now retired, led the band when they sang at the Queen of England’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. Shabalala and his family members, who together form the isicathamiya group, also had close ties to the late President Nelson Mandela, having been personally requested to sing by the President at his inauguration in 1994.

Reminiscing about the concert, Shabalala talks of their excitement at the time:

My goodness, that was so special!  It was probably the most special day in our lives.  Mandela became President of the country…. after our people had no freedom for so long. Then, we are asked to sing at the event.  Amazing!  It made us feel human, like this was our world now to make of it what we can.  Ladysmith Black Mambazo was given a role­– a mission– to represent this new country. It was, and is, something we take very seriously.

Joe Shabalala, Miriam Makeba, Paul Simon and Ray Phiri join hands, Zimbabwe, 14th February 1987

Joe Shabalala, Miriam Makeba, Paul Simon and Ray Phiri join hands, Zimbabwe, 14th February 1987

Now seventy-six years old, Joseph Shabalala no longer tours with his band, but with Mambazo remaining a family affair (most of the vocalists are sons or cousins of Joseph’s), the music is still very much a part of his life.

If you are in Durban for this year’s Heritage Day celebrations make sure to buy a ticket to Concert, Comedy & Craft where Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be performing at the Botanical Gardens, alongside Mango Groove, and the award-winning singing duo, Mafikizolo.

P.S. Happy birthday Joseph! Joseph Shabalala turns seventy-six today!

Graceland concert image courtesy of flashbak.com